Saturday, April 9, 2011

Sydney Lumet, 1924 - 2011

Sydney Lumet has died at age 86. His last movie, directed when he was in his 80s, was Before the Devil Knows You're Dead, which he filmed in digital video. He explained that he had always found film to be, in his words, a "pain in the ass". It was his first movie on digital video, and, sadly, his final film.

I saw his first movie, 12 Angry Men, on TV in the middle of the night when I was about 14, that and Fail Safe, made shortly before Dr Strangelove and with similar subject matter although it was strictly serious.

A Long Days Journey Into Night, I saw recently. I didn't realize he directed it. I've seen The Offense, Serpico, Murder on the Orient Express, Dog Day Afternoon, Network, Equus, The Verdict.

My God---I even saw A Stranger Among Us. He directed that, too?

I made fun of A Stranger Among Us. Milanie Griffith was an odd casting choice.

"It is so magical!" says a Hassidic Jew gawking at a TV set.

I said something about this to a friend who lived in that neighborhood, Williamsburg, where the film was set. He said that a furniture dealer there specialized in cabinets for the Hassidim to hide their TVs in so their co-religionists wouldn't know they watched.

I doubt Hassidic Jews have much in the way of child-like wonder.

The movie was trying to recreate the success of Witness, with Harrison Ford as a detective among the Amish, but the Hassidic sect in Williamsburg is known mainly for their violent xenophobia. If you're black or Hispanic and you walk through that neighborhood, you can expect to find a large, growing mob of these black suited racists following you down the street. In one case, a black off-duty police officer was chased through the streets until he reached a police station. The police refused to do anything about it. The Hassidim get away with crimes like this because they vote in a block.

Dog Day Afternoon----the actor who played Sal closely resembled the real person but was much older. The real Sal was only 17 or 18 years old. He had been impoverished, he was on his own with no support from his family, and he resorted to crime. The reason he was so afraid of going to prison is that he had been locked up several times before on minor charges and had been raped each time.

Oh, and there's one more thing Lumet directed that I saw. "The Death of Socrates" episode of the old '50s TV series You Are There. The show was done as if then-present day TV news crews were present at historical events. They do man-on-the street interviews to find out what people think about Socrates on trial. They showed this as a school movie. I only know he directed it because it's on imdb.com.

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